There’s more to motivation

Saturday, 01 February 2014
Val Cox outlines some key tactics for motivating your audience to do what you want.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the vast and endless sea. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Usually articles on motivation focus on the reader’s attempts to generate their own enthusiasm for various tasks, but I’d like to show you a different perspective.

Sometimes when you’re trying to win new business, persuade a client to consider better options, or sell a new product to the management team, logic alone isn’t enough. Understanding what moves your staff, managers, colleagues, and existing and potential clients can help you to formulate ideas with them in order to achieve the goals you have in mind.

I’m sure that everyone reading this column has encountered someone who tried to explain their point of view by stating the same arguments in the same way, over and over again, to no avail. In these situations, taking a few moments to consider the people you need to talk to, and what might influence them to accept or reject your suggestion, can make all the difference.

Let’s assume you’ve put together a business case for an idea. Your research and careful calculations show that this is a logical idea and you’re absolutely certain that it will bring financial benefits to your organisation. How do you get decision-makers and support staff on board?

Most people are aware that their audience will need to believe there is a benefit to themselves in order to be swayed by an argument. Unfortunately, there’s more to motivating people than that. Each individual in the room will be filtering what you say according to their own beliefs, bias (formed from previous experience), goals and values. Some people will be motivated by a financial benefit, some might want to know whether there’s an environmental impact and others might think that no amount of money will persuade them to spend less time with their family. A large portion of your audience won’t even be aware on a conscious level that their feelings towards your idea are being guided by their own subjectivity.

How can you appeal to a group of people with such different and hidden objectives?

‘Motivation has to do with the why of behaviour, as contrasted with the how or the what of behaviour,’ wrote David McClelland in Human Motivation. McClelland’s theory of motivation suggests that the three main drivers for a person’s motivation are the need for:

  • achievement
  • affiliation, and
  • power.1

A basic sales pitch will attempt to persuade listeners that they will receive the above if they agree to the speaker’s proposition. But it’s not enough to just appeal to those who want achievement, affiliation or power – you need to couch your arguments in terms of ‘towards’ and ‘away’ too.

A ‘towards’ person is motivated by gaining the perceived reward of any given action, while an ‘away’ person is more motivated by avoiding perceived negative consequences. For example:

  • Towards: ‘If you improve your interpersonal skills, you’ll win more client business.’
  • Away: ‘If you don’t improve your interpersonal skills, you’ll lose clients.’

If you only speak in terms of towards, or away, you’ll only get the attention of half of the audience. Using a mixture of both will capture the attention of the majority of the people to whom you’re speaking. Using the one that’s most persuasive to you comes naturally, so it can be difficult to train yourself to state things in both forms, but it is worthwhile.

Master Motivator

If you’d like to know more about motivating staff, line managers and clients to consider alternative points of view, STEP members have access to the Alchemy Performance Assistant resource via our CPD Centre on the STEP website. Alchemy has commissioned notes on various topics that are essential to managers and employees, written by experts and designed to be accessed when you need them.

  • 1These are explained in more detail under ‘Motivation’ in the Alchemy Performance Assistant resource, available through STEP’s online CPD Centre: www.step.org/management-skills
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Val Cox

Val Cox is CPD Manager at STEP.

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